The Buzz

Claire McCaskill stunned by U.S. treatment of service members intentionally exposed to WWII chemical weapons


Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has focused on sexual assault on college campuses and waste and abuse in federal contracting, has a new cause:

Members of the military who were intentionally exposed to chemical weapons during World War II.

The media has exposed some of these practices over the years. But the Democrat is talking anew of the U.S. practice of experimenting on real people — and specifically in the chemical defense research program.

There, an estimated 60,000 service members were used as human subjects, McCaskill said Tuesday. About 4,000 of them received high levels of mustard-gas exposure.

From a McCaskill news release Tuesday:

For decades, these servicemen were under explicit orders not to discuss their toxic exposure with their doctors or even their families. The U.S. military did not fully acknowledge its role in the mustard gas or lewisite testing program until the last of the experiments was declassified in 1975. The military did not lift the oath of secrecy for the servicemen until the early 1990s.

McCaskill determined that the Veterans Affairs Administration’s subsequent efforts to contact those individuals were woefully inadequate and the burden of proof for veterans to receive care was unreasonably high, resulting in the overwhelming majority of applications being denied.

“The way these servicemen have been treated for the last seven decades takes my breath away,” said McCaskill, the daughter of a World War II veteran. “It’s critical that we take immediate action to help the veterans whose government turned its back on them—and we need to acknowledge the tragic sacrifice they’ve made for their country, and our government’s failure to care for them.”

McCaskill pursued the issue following a series of reports on National Public Radio.